Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Thinking Thursday: Finding the Problem Is the Hard Part

instagram-founders-discuss-startInstagram Co-Founder Kevin Systrom believes building solutions for most problems is the easy part; the hard part is finding the right problem to solve. Here he opens up about how he and fellow Co-Founder Mike Krieger identified the problems they wanted to solve around sharing photos through mobile devices. He also reminds entrepreneurs to embrace simple solutions, as they can often delight users and customers (this is an excerpt from the full talk given at the Stanford University Entrepreneurship Corner).

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

Here’s a Lesson in Empathy

cleveland clinic

Empathy is such a big part of designing a small group ministry strategy that actually connects unconnected people. You can’t expect to do much unless you learn how to think like an unconnected person. See also, Do You See What They See?

And that’s why I love this video that was shared by Tim Brown, IDEO’s CEO and President. Shared originally by Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, MD, with his staff during his 2012 State of the Clinic address on Feb. 27, 2013. I think you’ll agree the video casts a powerful vision and makes quite an impression.


Patient care is more than just healing — it’s building a connection that encompasses mind, body and soul.

If you could stand in someone else’s shoes . . . hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?

Image by Cleveland Clinic

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Do You See What They See?

14376814474_ff8166730c_cI suppose I’m known for having a deep passion for connecting unconnected people. And I suspect that some of my friends believe my passion for connecting unconnected people comes at the expense of any serious commitment to genuinely fruitful disciple-making. But I have to tell you, I don’t see it that way.

Here’s how I see it. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again. For me, it always starts there. In addition, I believe we are each accountable for the way we steward the people who attend our church. And while I realize that unconnected people have a responsibility too, for the most part, I want to hear, “Well done. You did a good job caring for the unconnected people who came to your church.”

Making things a little more complicated, I believe we need to become experts at understanding how unconnected people see things. If we were really trying to reach them we would do that. We would become experts. We’d learn what their tastes are. We’d learn about their needs and hopes and dreams and interests. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

Most importantly, we would learn to empathize with unconnected people. We would learn to see what they see. And that’s not an easy thing to do. The natural order of things is for each of us to think only about our own interests; about our own needs, hopes, and dreams.

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” Daniel Goleman


Do you see what they see? Or can you only see things from your perspective?

Image by Tina Leggio

Top 10 Articles for Small Group Pastors

small group pastor readingI was asked to help with the college ministry at my church in 1983. I knew how to gather a crowd but had no idea how to help them grow in Christ. I learned how to make disciples from Eric Swanson, a Campus Crusade area director who spent a month at our church in the summer of 1984. I started my first small groups that fall using a study guide series called 10 Basic Steps toward Christian Maturity. The group leaders were slightly more mature college students and two young married couples served as coaches.

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been leading small groups and small group ministries ever since. I’ve led small group ministries in very cutting edge churches and in stuck-in-time churches. I’ve served in several of the fastest growing churches in America and in a couple that had plateaued and were teetering on the brink of decline.

I am both a student of what works and a determined experimenter at the edges. I have been called a mad scientist, but I’ve invented very little. I’m an early adopter and quick adapter. I am not a theorist. I am a practitioner.

I suppose if anyone should know something about being a small group pastor, it might be me.

Here are my top 10 articles for small group pastors:

  1. 5 Things Every Small Group Pastor Should Know on Day 1
  2. 10 Things Small Group Pastors Should Always Be Thinking
  3. Rethinking the Role of a Small Group Pastor
  4. 5 Stupid Things Small Group Pastor Should Stop Doing
  5. 5 Common Mistakes of Rookie Small Group Pastors
  6. 5 Problems Only an Experienced Small Group Pastor Recognizes
  7. 7 Skills Every Small Group Pastor Needs
  8. 4 Decisions Wise Small Group Pastors Make Once
  9. The 7 Biggest Problems Facing Small Group Pastors
  10. 4 Obsessions of Extraordinary Small Group Pastors

Image by Kamil Porembinski

Don’t Miss Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations that Will Help Your Church Grow

lasting impactI’ve been spending some time with a great new book from Carey Nieuwhof these last couple weeks. Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations that Will Help Your Church Grow is the newest book from Nieuwhof. With one of the most popular blogs, especially on the topic of reaching unchurched people, his is a familiar name for many of us.

There is a lot to really like about Lasting Impact. Framed around 7 conversations that would help any church to grow, every chapter skillfully develops both the need for the conversation and how to have it. There’s even a set of discussion questions at the end of every chapter.

The 7 conversations are:

  • Conversation #1. Why Are We Not Growing Faster?
  • Conversation #2. How Do We Respond as People Attend Church Less Often?
  • Conversation #3. Are Our Leaders Healthy . . . Really?
  • Conversation #4. What Keeps High-Capacity Leaders from Engaging Our Mission?
  • Conversation #5. Why are Young Adults Walking Away from Church?
  • Conversation #6. What Cultural Trends Are We Missing?
  • Conversation #7. What Are We Actually Willing to Change?

The book has the same feel as many of his most popular blog posts. It’s not a difficult read. In fact, the only difficulty is putting it down long enough to actually have the conversations! While a quick glance at the list of conversations may cause you to wonder if you could really have that conversation, it should also give you some hope that having that conversation may bring the change your congregation needs.

I also really liked the very practical nature of the content. Although these are conversations that are often reserved for off-site meetings facilitated by consultants with briefcases, they don’t have to be. I can definitely see leadership teams reading Lasting Impact and working through the conversations at their own pace.

I loved Lasting Impact and will be recommending it to many of my coaching and consulting clients. Whether you’re already familiar with Carey Nieuwhof or not, you’ll be glad you picked up a copy of this very practical and powerful book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thinking Thursday: Reach Your Escape Velocity


Caution: You may be tempted to dismiss this video as irrelevant to your work. For almost all of us, figuring out how to free our organizations from the successes and failures of the past is essential. Just put on your thinking hat and listen carefully. You will hear what I heard and pick up multiple ideas that will help.


In this high-energy lecture, Geoffrey Moore discusses how companies can build the escape velocity necessary to move beyond the successes and failures of the past. Moore argues that when companies focus too much on performance, they miss out on building the power to become the industry leaders that other companies envy. He shares a hierarchy model through which companies can examine and build power, and examines how product teams can best work to differentiate their company, neutralize the competition, and optimize products and offers.

Can You Spot the Difference between a Step and a Program?

steps not programs“Next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.

Next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends is a core concept in my ministry strategy. It’s an adaptation of one of Andy Stanley’s 7 Practices of Effective Ministry (“steps, not programs”).

If you’ve been along for very much of this conversation, this is not news to you. Still, you may have questions or wonder what might be defined as a step (as opposed to a program)? And it will pay to have a keen eye for the difference, if only because long-time advocates of certain programs will question your reasoning when you begin to trim your belong and become menu. See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

Here are several key lines from the 7 Practices of Effective Ministry that will help break it down:


“According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a program is ‘a system of services, opportunities, or projects, usually designed to meet a social need.”

“When you think programs you start by asking, ‘What is the need?’ The first question is usually followed by a second question: ‘How are we going to meet that need?'”


“The American Heritage Dictionary defines a step as ‘one of a series of actions, processes, or measures taken to achieve a goal.’

“When you think steps you start by asking, ‘Where do we want people to be?’ That question is followed by a second, more strategic question: ‘How are we going to get there from here?'”

If you want to build a ministry that effectively helps people move from crowd to core, you must understand how to spot the difference between a step and a program. Designing a belong and become menu with a carefully selected set of steps is an essential activity. See also, Foundational Teaching: Next Steps for EVERYONE and Crowd-to-Core: An Essential Understanding at the Heart of My Strategy.

Image by Nicholas Raymond

10 Big Lessons I’ve Learned about Small Group Ministry

lessonsHave you ever sat down and listed the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Here are 10 big lessons I’ve learned about small group ministry:

  1. The interests of insiders are different than the interests of outsiders. Insiders can sometimes be guilted into caring about things senior pastors care about (theology, missions, capital campaigns, etc.). Unconnected people respond almost exclusively to topics that interest them. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  2. Belonging precedes becoming in the hierarchy of needs. This is why I say you must focus on making disciples as you connect unconnected people. Don’t lose sight of the fact that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again. Jesus knew what Abraham Maslow would propose 2000 years later and invited his earliest followers to come and see first, then to come and die. See also, 5 Things I Wish You Knew as You Build Your Small Group Ministry.
  3. The best leader candidates are often not currently in a small group. Yes, it is true that some leader candidates are in existing groups and could be tapped as apprentices or leaders of new groups. However, in all but the smallest churches and churches with already very high percentage connected numbers, the best leader candidates are most likely not already connected (and in most cases are people who are unknown by staff). If the main strategies used to recruit additional leaders depend on cherry picking from the usual suspects, there is no question that the majority of the best candidates are flying under the radar and will never be spotted. See also, 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Leaders.
  4. A test-drive is an easier first step than a long-term commitment. This lesson impacts both how you invite unconnected people to join a group and how you recruit additional coaches. When joining a group feels like a lifetime commitment (i.e., longer than about 6 weeks) or signing on to be a coach requires life-altering commitments (i.e., one year commitments, quitting other ministry commitments, etc.), you shouldn’t be surprised at hesitation. A toe-in-the-water allows an easier beginning than diving headfirst into the pool. See also, 5 Things to Remember When Planning Connecting Events.
  5. Coaching has very little to do with technique. Yes, the best coaches know the ins and outs of leading a group. Yes, it makes a lot of sense to recruit experienced small group leaders as coaches. But the real value of a coach is to do TO and FOR small group leaders whatever you want your leaders to do TO and FOR the members of their groups. That means long after the leader knows everything they’re going to need to know about leading a group, they will still need someone who loves them and cares for them in a way that models whatever you want to happen at the member level. See also, 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders.
  6. Settling for warm and willing (instead of hot and qualified) is a loser’s game. Filling a coaching org chart with the wrong people is a poor substitute for holding out for the right people and asking for a full commitment. Never settle for favors. Favors almost always result in unmet expectations. See also, 6 Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  7. Exceeding span of care limits has unavoidable consequences. A wise and realistic span of care (everyone needs to be cared for by someone, but nobody can care for more than about 10 people) leads to long term coaching teams and, just as importantly, the highest levels of new groups sustained. Burning out personally, or burning out your best players, is a rookie mistake. Learn this early and avoid the pain. See also, 5 Common Mistakes of Rookie Small Group Pastors.
  8. There are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies. Fortunately, I learned this lesson very early. The realization that there is no problem-free saved me from the fruitless pursuit of something no more real than the abominable snowman or a formula that turns lead into gold. The sooner you learn the lesson, the sooner you realize that wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  9. Results are determined by design. Success or failure is not determined by a fluke. “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).” “Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity (Albert Einstein).” Learn this lesson earlier, not later. Life is just better when you learn that results are determined by design. Focus your attention on a adopting or adapting a design that produces the results you need. See also, 5 Signs Your Ministry Design is Inadequate.
  10. Propping up existing groups (instead of starting new groups) leads to fewer groups.  It happens to all of us and if we let it, it will happen over and over.  “We are down to three couples…if you could send us a couple more it would be helpful.”  This is a losing proposition.  Far better to prioritize new groups and teach existing group leaders how to be on the lookout for new members.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups and Great Question: How Do I Train Leaders to Add New Members?

Image by Quinn Dombrowski

Can Your Ministry Reach Escape Velocity?

escape velocityYou know your ministry isn’t what it needs to be and you really want to move it to the next level. In fact, you’ve known it isn’t what it needs to be for at least a year or two (or maybe it’s been five). And you’ve tried several tweaks to pry it loose, but it’s just stuck. Been there? There now?

What do you think the problem is? Why do you think you can’t break through?

Can I suggest something? I think the answer to your problem is what you’re trying isn’t enough to break out of the gravitational pull of the status quo. You can’t break out because you haven’t reached escape velocity*. And the truth is you can’t reach escape velocity by tweaking the strategy you’re using. Period. End of story.

If you want to do anything beyond the status quo, you’ll need to begin making evolutionary changes (extending beyond existing offerings or adapting to reach new users).

Can I help you do that?

I’d love to at least help you get started.

There are several ways I can do that:

First, you might consider taking advantage of one of my short courses. For example, Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry will teach you some killer concepts that will make a difference (or your money back). You can find out about it right here.

Second, you might take advantage of a coaching call package. We can tailor the calls to your specific situation. You can find out about my coaching call packages right here.

Third, you can sign up for my 2016 Winter/Spring Coaching Network. Every year I lead a small cohort through a sequenced set of conversations that help build thriving small group ministries. You can find out about my next network right here.

Bottom line? I’d love to help you. If you’re stuck and you can’t break through, isn’t now a good time to do what you need to do to reach escape velocity?

Questions? Email Me for more information.

*Escape velocity is “the lowest velocity that a body must have in order to escape the gravitational attraction of a particular planet or other object.”

Image by Chris Hagood

Escape Velocity: Free Your Company’s Future from the Pull of the Past


Add The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership to the Must Read List

4 dimensionsSpent some time this week with The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership, the newest book from Jenni Catron. A leader who loves putting feet to vision,” she has served on the executive leadership teams of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, CA and Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. Prior to ministry leadership, she worked as Artist Development Director in the Christian music industry.

Whether you’re working to become a better leader or raise up more and better leaders, The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership is a book you’re going to want to spend some time with. In fact, it really is the kind of book you’re going to want to savor. As I’ve learned to do, the first thing I did when I open was take a look at the table of contents and then give the book a quick skim, stopping here and there to get a feel for the contents. Let me tell you, I came across a couple things that told me this was a book worth a careful read over many sessions.

The point of The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership is a journey “to unpack the four areas every leader must develop in order to lead extraordinarily.” The four areas are:

  • Lead with all your heart (relational leadership)
  • Lead with all your soul (spiritual leadership)
  • Lead with all your mind (managerial leadership)
  • Lead with all your strength (visionary leadership)

After a strong introduction laying the groundwork, Part Two of the book takes the reader through the four areas in a way that is both packed with deep insights and full of valuable takeaways. My copy is very marked up, underlined, starred, and dog-eared as page after page revealed another memorable insight or quote.

The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership is also very practical. Every chapter concludes with a thoughtful set of questions for reflection. I can definitely see using this book as required reading for our leadership development efforts.

I am naturally a little bit of a sucker for assessments, so when I noticed the book included one I looked forward to evaluating it for use with my team. After the first couple of questions I realized this assessment was written for me!

Part Three is all about putting extraordinary into practice. It’s one thing to learn about the four dimensions. It’s another thing entirely to “consistently live the life of an extraordinary leader.” This last section takes the reader quickly through a wise set of practices that will both help you put extraordinary into practice and help your team do it as well.

If you want to become an extraordinary leader and develop extraordinary leaders, The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership is an essential read. Please don’t miss it! I loved this book and I know you will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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